Are dogs good judges of character?


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LoyaltyOfDogs

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Bounty jumper-captured by a dog.jpg

(Illustration from "The Pictorial Book of Anecdotes of the Rebellion," by R.M. Devens, 1889)


Is your dog a good judge of character? Have you ever heard people say that if their dogs don’t like someone, that’s good reason they shouldn’t like them either? From several accounts preserved in Civil War soldiers’ reminiscences, it would seem that dogs, and army dogs in particular, have a natural dislike for skulkers, deserters, and others up to no good. Maybe it was just the fraught circumstances of these encounters—and not a canine ability to detect character flaws—that earned each of these men a memorable physical rebuke from a nearby dog. But we’d bet the dogs knew exactly who they were dealing with.

A soldier of the 20th North Carolina shared this account of an incident during the Battle of South Mountain in September 1862:

“A pet dog belonging to Hays’ men was crazed with the noise and confusion of battle. A cannon ball cut the top out of a large oak, which in falling, imprisoned a skulker behind the tree. His cries for help were answered by the dog. I never saw a poor man’s pants torn so badly since. He suffered more than he would have had he gone into the fight.”

~From “Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions From North Carolina in the Great War 1861-’65,” (Vol. II) edited by Walter Clark

John D. Lippy, Jr., growing up in early 20th century Gettysburg, heard much about the 11th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry’s canine mascot, Sallie Ann Jarrett, from visiting veterans. The following story is one of the episodes of Sallie’s life that he shared in his 1962 book The War Dog.

Sallie regularly accompanied her soldiers into battle, where she often took up a position with the front line, barking furiously during the fight. She was wounded in combat in May 1864 at the Wilderness, when a minie ball struck her in the neck. Though the bullet could not be removed, it was not life-threatening, and Sallie returned to action after a few days’ convalescence. In one of the regiment’s next engagements, a frightened young conscript serving in another regiment attempted to retreat through the 11th’s lines. Sallie grabbed him as he ran by, tearing the seat out of his pants.

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(Illustration from "The War Dog" by John D. Lippy, Jr., 1962)


And here is an account of a bounty-jumper captured by a dog, as shared by @John Hartwell in an earlier post.

Good dogs! Rascals and scoundrels beware!
 
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John Hartwell

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Perhaps. Perhaps not. Note that its always the humans that tell these stories, giving their own interpretations to the dog's actions. The dogs themselves remain silent on their motivations.

There are so many factors to be considered. A dog terrified by the din of battle, might attack anybody it thought a threat (rightly or wrongly). Fear, in fact, injury, sickness might well affect a dog's mental state. And, like I say in that post you reference, maybe just the fun of pursuing a running prey might influence him to tackle a fleeing deserter.

Don't forget, either, the many dogs who will remain steadfastly loyal to utterly vile, abusive owners.

Dogs are not, by nature, vicious or judgmental.
 

LoyaltyOfDogs

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Don't forget, either, the many dogs who will remain steadfastly loyal to utterly vile, abusive owners.
All excellent points, particularly this one. They aren't naturally vicious or judgmental, but I do believe they're naturally forgiving. Maybe that's why they remain loyal to people whose mistreatment of them clearly shows they don't deserve dogs.
 
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diane

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Sometimes dogs really do have their own judgments about who is or is not a threat to them and theirs. Long while ago we had a Great Dane/mastiff mix - who was huge - and he spent a lot of his time in the back yard we had, behind a cyclone fence. One night somebody decided to sneak across that field and climb the fence to see what could be swiped out of our yard. Lance sat on the back porch watching, not barking at all, and when he saw the guy sling a leg over the top he went into action. Didn't bark a warning, no nothing just suddenly was at him! That guy squealed like a girl and screamed like a banshee all the way back across that open field and Lance retired the victor...with the guy's pants in his teeth. No blood, no drama! Here's his britches, boss - don't think he'll be back for them...
 

O' Be Joyful

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They certainly are territorial and protective. But, I think it is the conditioning of their owners & their previous experiences rather than instinctive judgment that's at work. But, maybe we are arguing about differing definitions of "good judge of character."
True John. Some have been bred for certain "characteristics" which are sometimes difficult to train out, but can be overcome in most cases, with patience. And I agree it is the owner that has the most influence.

Reminiscing about old and current friends seems to creep into conversations like these. Had dog when I was a kid, like the one diane mentioned, he would lay under a bush and let you get to our door. Getting back to your car was...

But, perhaps wardog stories would be best.
 

JPK Huson 1863

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I don't know. Mom was home with us, I was maybe 8? In those days it was just a thing- anyone in need of help in any way was directed to the parsonage. Can't tell you the number of sandwiches that passed over the threshold. One man showed up and Lady ( ' Lady and The Tramp ' was big, my poor parents were stuck with the name ) put herself between this guy and Mom and growled- wouldn't let him in. She never growled- or barked. A pastor couldn't have a mean dog, too many people came to the house. Lady's hackles were up, she pushed Mom's knees and got nasty. The man had to leave.

Transpired he'd escaped from some place for what was then called criminally insane. Did some damage before recapture, big story in town.

One of our present dogs and my sister seem to have developed a mutual antipathy. He's a great dog.
 

gary

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Certainly not my dog. I got her used/second hand from the shelter and she dislikes and is afraid of older past college age white males (kinda tells you what her abusive former owner was). It's embarrassing when friends visit and she barks (because she's scared) incessantly at a friend.
 

archieclement

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I would say better judges than humans
Think Dingus is a great judge, hes normally very friendly, if he automatically thinks someone doesn't warrant being treated as a friend, I'll be suspicious of em as well, besides we knowing they have superior normal senses then we do, too many stories that suggest extra-ordinary senses for me to ignore.
 

byron ed

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To answer the OP, dogs are not innately good judges of character. They are "of the pack," meaning that they are instead good judges of their owner's (their alpha's) perceptions, and not to make more of it.

Dogs are incredibly tuned to their masters (a mere glance is all it takes). And dogs are strongly loyal to them, so aside from imminent physical harm or protecting their puppies...

Witness that whatever we think, upstanding and innocent people of high character are attacked by dogs. Such dogs are either enlisted by nefarious alphas or they are insecure because they don't have an alpha.

btw humans are also pack animals socially, which helps to explain the natural bond, experienced as love, between people and dogs.

Cats? A different thing :cat:.
 
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